Ethics: Reporting gifts

Editor's note: While this article pertains to gifts, new requirements related to income sources will take effect in January 2017.

The following article is the second in a series about properly filing the annual Statement of Economic Interests with the State Ethic Commission. The first article dealt with reporting income and benefits.

Reporting gifts is one of the most challenging sections of the Statement of Economic Interests. The state Ethics Act broadly defines the term "gifts" to include ""anything of value, including entertainment, food, beverage, travel, and lodging given or paid to a public official, public member, or public employee to the extent that consideration of equal or greater value is not received."

The SEI instructs filers to report anything of value worth $25 or more in a day and anything of value worth $200 or more in the aggregate in a calendar year. This language conflicts with a section of the Ethics Act which requires reporting anything of value. The State Ethics Commission staff advises public officials, public members and public employees who file a Statement of Economic Interests to disclose anything of value received as a result of their public office or position.

Example of items to report

  • Meal, food and beverage expenses paid for by a third party, including but not limited to, lawyers, engineers, consultants, suppliers of goods and services, and contractors. Officials must report these expenses regardless of whether the entire council is invited.
  • Entertainment such as golf green fees or a sporting event, concert or theater tickets
  • Trips and associated expenses paid for by a third party
  • Gift baskets and specialty food items
  • Municipal officials serving in an ex officio or appointed capacity on boards, agencies or commissions must disclose travel, lodging and meals paid for by these organizations, even if the expenses are required as part of their service on the board/commission. 

Example of items not considered "of value" for reporting purposes

  • Reimbursement for actual incurred and authorized business expenses paid by your municipality. Per diems not supported by receipts for actual expenses are subject to reporting.
  • Printed informational or promotional material worth less than $10
  • Items of nominal value, worth less than $10, containing or displaying promotional material such as exhibit hall and vendor giveaways
  • Door prizes or other items awarded by random selection
  • Personalized plaque or trophy worth less than $150
  • Promotional or marketing items offered to the general public on the same terms and conditions without regard to status as a public official or public employee
  • Campaign contributions properly received and reported under the Ethics Act

Understanding the SEI requirements and maintaining proper records are the keys to proper reporting. When in doubt, the safest practice is to disclose and report all gifts. Next month's article will cover reporting real and personal property and business interests.